Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Eagle and The Bear

Had a chance to give GMT's Twilight Struggle a try - my first playing, despite this having been out for a bit over a year (long enough to have gotten a reprint with new cards, at least). I was the USSR, Eric the US, and it was on.

The rules to Twilight Struggle are not overly complex, but as is the case in most Card-Driven Games (CDG), the complexity is in the cards - how they interact, and what they do (often one of several options). Also, the scoring rules, while again not complex, are difficult to parse in real time - in other words, it was tough for me to quickly assess where my actions would have the most beneficial effect. Distinctions between Control, Domination and Presence of geopolitical regions are, while not complicated, difficult to quickly see on the board. As a result, I was going into this game with a bit of a handicap, as Eric has played several times previously - which is why he played the US, who definitely have a tougher path to victory, especially in the early portion of the game.

So, what did I think? I enjoyed the game, for the most part, but it's definitely a game that will require multiple plays to fully form an opinion of - our game went the full 10 turns, and was, I think, a fairly close fought thing, the score track was around -16 (negative numbers being in the Soviets favor), but I ended up losing as a result of losing control of Europe, which is an automatic victory for whoever HAS control (in this case Eric as the US). I ended up having to play the Europe scoring card that ended the game (on my last card play of the 10th turn, after trying to take just ONE battleground country back from Eric - and failing repeatedly), but I would have lost in the final scoring anyway, as the same result would have occurred when we did the final scoring of all regions. This end result was somewhat anti-climatic, but probably was more a result of my not having a good feel for the arc of the game, as well as not being familiar with the cards - losing control of Europe was result of a three turn effort on Eric's part to take control, and he had some Late War cards that helped immensely - in particular, Chernobyl (which prevented the Soviets from doing ANYTHING in Europe for an entire turn) and Tear Down This Wall which took what had felt like pretty solid Soviet control of East Germany and threw it to the US. Knowing the effect of these cards, I may have done more to solidify my positions in Europe - of course, this would have resulted in weaker positions on the rest of the board, so it may have had a similar effect.

One interesting thing about the game, that isn't really related to how it plays, but more to the feel of the game, is it really does remind you of the feeling of the time - at least for me, as I can remember many of the events in the game (mostly the later Mid-War and Late War cards), but even the ones that happened before I was around remind one of famous events in the Cold War. Most things you can think of are there - there's the Space Race, Khruschev's "We Will Bury You", Reagan's "Evil Empire", Iran-Contra, Allende, etc. Most of the major events of the Cold War seem to be encapsulated into a card in the game - and that is very interesting. Also, the logic of the game FEELS like what the cold war felt like - the "domino" theory of geopolitics is definitely in the game, as to expand, you need to have at least a presence in a country, but once a country is controlled by your opponent, it's much more difficult to gain a foothold in the normal course of play - events change this, but even those tend to depend on having a presence (not always though - and those are powerful events).

Another interesting element is how the card play works - each card has an operations value, and an event, and the event is either a Soviet event, a US event, or both. If you have a card with an event for your side (or one that is playable by both sides), you have a tough decision to make, whether to use the point value of the card to perform operations on the map (expanding influence, staging coups or pushing for re-alignments), or use the event for it's effect. On the other hand, if you have an event for your opponents side, you can play it for operations on the map, but the event occurs anyway! So sometimes, you'd just as soon have one of your events in your opponents hand - but this is mixed blessing, as they then control when it occurs, as well as choosing whether the event happens first, or their operations happen first. So, there is definitely a fair amount of turn-angst as you try and figure out the "best" way to play your cards - and "best" often means "least bad".

On the whole, Twilight Struggle was quite interesting (not least because the time-frame for the game is what it is), but I'm withholding judgement on what I think of the game as a whole until after I have a few more plays under my belt.

Speaking of which, we're on hiatus next week as I am entertaining my parents and sister next week - but we'll be on the following week. Not certain what I'll pick to play then, but right now I'm about evenly split between BattleLore and a rematch of Twilight Struggle.


Dug said...

I hope you knew that the little player aid card has the wrong rules for Domination, at least in the first edition.

C3i #18 has an excellent Threat Matrix that tells you what cards in what era affect what countries. Extremely useful for figuring out what you need to look out for (and what will get you nowhere, such as the US putting influence in Romania early).

Eric said...

We didn't actually use the aid card from the game, so no worry about a misplayed rule there.

I completely forgot about the Threat Matrix. Something to copy off and put in the box, to be sure.